In addition to revealing that the core game is now free, ArenaNet used their PAX Prime presentation to announce that 10-player raids are coming to Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. While they won't be present for the expansion's launch, ArenaNet will introduce the game's first ever raid in three parts shortly after its release later this year.
"We’re at the point now where we felt like raids is the perfect addition to our game," Guild Wars 2 game director Colin Johanson tells PC Gamer. "Our players have been asking us for a greater challenge. They want a reason to come together into larger groups and overcome really difficult challenges, and that’s what this system is all about."
According to Johanson, ArenaNet's plan is to remove the traditional barriers that can stop MMO players from enjoying raids. "Our combat system allows everybody to play our core roles of support, control, and DPS," he says. "You can play the profession that you love to play, you can get ten players together and you can play the raid. You don’t have to wait around half an hour for a healer to get online." There won't be an attunement system, either. As Johanson puts it, players should be able to simply "form up, play the raid, and have a great time."
While ArenaNet wants less barriers to get to raiding, the studio isn't planning to reduce the challenge. "We expect this to be the hardest content we've ever put in the game," Johanson says. "And we want players to spend a long time working together to figure out how to defeat these challenges. We think that's what makes raids rewarding, is playing, learning and adapting your strategies until you’re finally able to defeat it and move onto the next encounter." Johanson does expect a broad part of the community to attempt the raid, but, initially at least, thinks only a small portion will be able to defeat it.
"Over time more and more people will learn how to defeat it as they continue to play and refine strategies," Johanson continues. "That’s why we want to regularly add new raids, so that there’s always a new challenge waiting for you. So that there’s something to look forward to that you haven’t defeated before." Raids will become a major part of Heart of Thorns' post-launch content. Johanson describes Heart of Thorns as being the roadmap for Guild Wars 2's future. Raids are planned as one of the core components of the expansion's regular live updates.
Raids, traditionally, hinge on the interplay between the three points of the MMO Trinity—tank, healer and DPS. Guild Wars 2's combat doesn't follow this model. All characters are ultimately responsible for their own health bar, and, while some professions lean more towards a support or DPS, there are plenty of instances where builds utilise both. How is ArenaNet creating raids in a system where the each player's role is so fluid?
"I think we actually have a really great advantage here in that I think the combat system is one of the most unique parts of Guild Wars 2," says Johanson. He talks about the nature of the game's competitive PvP, and how players need to balance support, control and DPS; how weapon-swapping allows them to alter their roles on the fly; and how combo fields require teams to work together. "We’ve really just taken that philosophy and applied it to our raids. "Our raids take all the things that our combat system offers, brings them all together, and asks you to use all of those abilities together to defeat everything."
"Our guardian might play support very different than an engineer does, very different than a warrior does, but all of them have a capacity to support their party, all of them have the capacity to do damage, and everyone has to heal. You have the ability to heal yourself, but you all have the ability to spec in ways to heal other players, to support other players. And we’re making control a much larger part of our content as well. So we’re really leaning on you as a party to figure out these puzzles and use our combat system to overcome them, and I think one of the coolest things about our combat system is everybody has to take care of themselves and take care of their buddies around them.
"You know, I like to think of traditional raiding as watching a bunch of UI bars move up and down all over the screen, and I’m barely watching the actual combat. Guild Wars 2’s raiding is the exact opposite. Everything you are doing is watching the middle of the screen. It’s watching the action, it’s watching what’s going on in the encounter, and watching what the other players in your party are actively doing and then working together to overcome it."
Raids will also utilise Heart of Thorns' new masteries system. In the announcement trailer, you can see players hang gliding to the next encounter—one of the new traversal skills that players will be able to unlock. "There’s a boss up on a platform that’s basically winding up to drop this massive nuke that forms at its legs and slowly spreads across this entire platform," Johanson says, explaining some of the unique mechanics of the first raid. "As it spreads you basically have to run and stay just ahead of this wall of fire that’s slowly chasing you off the platform, jump, and, at the last minute, deploy your hang glider, fly into an air draft, catch the air draft, circle back around, drop back on the platform, and start taking the boss down as fast as you possibly can."
"That’s just one example of something where the mastery system ties into the encounters but, in every encounter we want to lean on providing a number of different puzzles and experiences for the player. Everything from using conditions and boons, to active combat, to dodge-rolling, to our mastery system, to combo fields. We have so many different tools in our combat system, and we want to provide every encounter having a unique mix of those. You really have to use everything that our combat does well."